REPORTER JAMES HELPED TO SAVE INVERARY CASTLE FROM INFERNO

By James Grylls

Formerly of The Scottish Daily Mail

A Very British Scandal which is on Brit TV at the moment brings to mind the Inveraray Castle fire in 1975. Despatched from Glasgow I sped up the side of Loch Lomond and an hour-and-a-half later roared up the driveway of the castle which was still alight. Leaping nimbly from my car I was confronted by the 12th duke of Argyll who was running down the steps of his ancient pile with an armful of books. “Open your boot,” he shouted before hurling the volumes inside my vehicle; others followed and I was then ordered to take the lot of them to the factor’s office.
Fair enough, I thought for I was getting a close up view of the rescue operation. The dirk and sporran that once belonged to Rob Roy, muskets from the 1745 rebellion and other mementos from Bonnie Prince Charlie’s (only man in Scotland named after three sheepdogs) abortive attempt to win back his grandad’s throne were ferried to safety by tractor along with paintings by such luminaries as Gainsborough and Raeburn. and other treasures from the Campbell collection.
Later to the George Hotel, Inveraray where a few McDonalds were buying drink. Back in Glasgow I was appalled to discover that quite a rare book on Glasgow which had been in my boot had been swept up in the rescue. Correspondence followed and the book was returned. A year later found me back at the castle writing a feature on its restoration. As the duke showed myself and photographer Andrew Kiggins round he murmured that he understood I had taken part in the rescue operation and had had a spot of bother with a book and that he would like to give me a little souvenir of the occasion.
Mmm, I thought – perhaps a scorched Gainsborough or a water damaged Sir Walter Scott. Not so lucky. He handed me a lump of lead which came from the castle roof and which had melted during the conflagration.
After the fire the Duke went off to America to raise money for the restoration. Lumps of lead from the roof sold at a dollar a time & were quite popular..I’ve still got mine . I use it as a paperweight and to remind me how the Campbells became among the most powerful clans in Scotland.
The George Hotel on the left of the main street in Inverary.

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